Tag Archives: red writing hood

i do not have a dragon tattoo

I do not have a dragon tattoo. But I have one. It’s in Japanese, which always requires explanation. And in the 13 years since it was etched upon my foot, the fine lines remain the same, but the meaning has evolved.

Once upon a time, I’d explain in great detail that a professor once spoke about a writer’s life, and it was passion – the reality that one will struggle for the work they love – that touched my twenty-year-old heart.

From the Latin passio, “to suffer” – yes, it was romantic. I’m a romantic, even if I knew the sobering reality firsthand: that a life in the arts could be fickle and frustrating and unrewarding. There was something utterly exhilarating in knowing that writing was, and is, like oxygen for me. I felt so lucky to be preparing for a career doing what I couldn’t live without.

So, I placed the word upon my foot, strategically aligned so that it could hide beneath the strap of a J. Crew flip-flop, of which I owned many a pair. If I didn’t want it seen by my grandmothers, I had that covered (no pun intended).

(Ironically, as I got older I couldn’t stand the feel of rubber flip-flops against my feet. My grandmothers would see it. They would survive.)

As years go by, I realize the tattoo, regardless of what it means literally, marked a time in my life when I was truly enchanted by the prospects of what was to come. As if I made a binding contract with myself in tattoo ink. I was a writer. This was my fate.

Would I do it again? I can’t say. But it is done. A constant reminder that I live what I love. For better. For worse. For always. I write.

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wonderwall

at school ca. 1995. um, yeah. i'm wearing overalls. i was 17. just focus on the cute puppy instead.

I was seventeen, a high school senior, when I received my first real paycheck. Minimum wage at GapKids was less than I made babysitting those wearing BabyGap onesies, but babysitting paid cash and a paycheck was official. Plus it gave me a 50% discount at all Gap stores.

Retail work can be hard. This wasn’t. Customers who are children are far easier to deal with than adult customers who act like children. Plus, two of my best friends worked there, too.

Being a teenager can be hard. Sometimes it was. And in some sartorial version of The Karate Kid, I learned the art and inner calm that came with a perfectly styled Denim Wall. Outside the store life was filled with anxiety. College applications and the admissions waiting game, arguments with my parents or my boyfriend, all the drama of adolescence. Inside, folding (and refolding) jeans into their cubbies, I was at ease.

The Wall was a ginormous floor to ceiling version of an IKEA Expedit, holding denim for everyone from toddlers to preteens. It was the mid-nineties. A simpler time for denim. The Wall held just two washes and only a few styles. But it was a house of cards. A house of copper-riveted freaking cards.

It was virtually impossible to pull one pair from any section and not bring a dozen more with it. (A really fun game to many a bored toddler.) We always offered to assist people, knowing how to remove a pair like a piece in a Jenga puzzle. But GapKids isn’t a museum. You’re allowed to touch things. Someone would pull out a pair of boy’s size 6 and ten more would come tumbling down. They’d apologize. I’d assure them, It’s the Wall, not you.

Eventually, the Sisyphean task of tidying the stacks became meditative – folding with precise, three-step symmetry, silently and rhythmically, to whatever was playing on loop in that month’s in-store soundtrack.

And after all

You’re my wonderwall…

The same songs my friends and I would hear Ryan Seacrest DJ-ing on STAR98.7 as we went to work after school, driving down the boulevard with drinks from Coffee Bean, smoking Marlboro Lights, ready to take on the world.

At the store, in floral dresses and denim jackets, black capris and cardigans, in overalls, I’d fold, fold, fold and stack.

You grew up way too fast
And now there’s nothing to believe
And reruns all become our history…

Fold, fold, fold, stack.

I don’t want to take advice from fools
I’ll just figure everything is cool
Until I hear it from you…

Fold, fold, fold, stack.

In April, after six months at the store, a film of my father’s took us out of the country. I’d work with a tutor and come back for prom and graduation, but had to say goodbye to the paycheck, the discount, the Wall.

But I held on to what it had taught me.

There was time for reflection as you folded that heap of mangled denim, a feeling of accomplishment when you stepped back and saw that the work was done. Sometimes it looked perfect. But perfect doesn’t last. Someone’s bound to help themselves to a pair, or seven, and leave you with a perfect mess. But that’s OK. They’re only jeans.

Sometimes in order to figure things out you need to sort through the messes. Find some quiet. Find order in the chaos.

Fold, fold, fold, stack.


This post is part of the REDwritingHOOD series. This week’s assignment: write about jeans.